How to Rotate Car Tires

Learn how to keep your tires properly rotated in your own garage. 

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Rotating your own tires is an important but misunderstood part of automotive upkeep, especially if you think this happens automatically while driving. Yes, tires spin. No, rotating them doesn’t mean spinning them even more. To rotate means to switch the tires around to different wheels, equalizing the tread wear.

Technically, “shuffling your tires” is more accurate but just doesn’t have the same ring. Here’s how to rotate them yourself without damaging the car or your body. 

Things You’ll Need

Despite the fact that you have a 2- or 4-ton beast to wrestle, rotating your own tires is more than manageable without an army of mechanics and a car lift. A few basic tools and a lot of patience are all you need.

  • Carjack - something to lift the car’s wheels off of the ground. A hydraulic jack is preferable.
  • Jack stands - stands to hold the car up as you take the wheels off. You will need one to four stands.
  • Tools - a basic lug wrench will be needed to remove and secure the wheels. 

Safety

Once again, it’s important to keep in mind that you are dealing with a multi-ton vehicle when it comes to rotating your own tires. Don’t assume you will naturally muster the strength of ten elephants should you become trapped underneath the car. Safety is important. Here are some tips to follow:

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  • Use jacks and stands rated for the weight of your car. Look up its specifications online or in the owner’s manual if you don’t know the weight.
  • Use at least two jack stands so you don’t have to rely on the car jack to suspend the car.
  • Don’t get under the car. The wheels are on the sides anyway.

Preparation

You will need a flat surface to park where you can work on your car if you want gravity to be on your side. Avoid sloped driveways or roads with a steep crown. The garage is the best place to do it.

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  1. ​​​​Position the vehicle and place it in the park.
  2. Loosen the lug nuts on each wheel. Don’t take them off completely. This will just make it easier to get them off when the wheels are elevated.

Rotation Sequence

Like any good magic trick or surgical operation, there’s a certain order to do things to get the best results. In this case, you need to figure out the proper rotation sequence to maximize the mileage on your tires. The rotation sequence will depend on the tires you have. Plan out the sequence ahead of time so you won’t have to keep track of tire positions and swaps in the heat of the moment. 

Directional Tire Sequence

If your tires have treads that point in a specific direction, this means you have directional tires; creative name, we know. Assuming your tires were installed or rotated correctly previously, they should be in the appropriate direction before you start. This rotation sequence will keep the tires in the right direction as you swap.

  1. Swap the front and rear tires while keeping them on the same side.
    • The left front tire will become the left rear tire.
    • The rear left tire will become the front left tire.
    • The right front tire will become the right rear tire.
    • The rear right tire will become the front right tire.

Non-Directional Tire Sequence

If your tires have uniform treads that don’t point, you have non-directional tires. This means you don’t have to worry about which direction the tire faces. Instead, this rotation sequence swaps the tires for the most uniform tread wear.

  • Swap the front or rear tires and cross the other set. The tires going onto the drive axle should be the ones you swap. You can choose whichever sequence works best for all-wheel-drive cars, especially if it has a two-wheel-drive option for normal cruising.
  • For rear-wheel drive:
    • The front left tire will become the rear right tire.
    • The rear left tire will become the front left tire.
    • The front right tire will become the rear left tire.
    • The rear right tire will become the front right tire.
  • For front-wheel drive:
    • The front left tire will become the rear left tire.
    • The rear left tire will become the front right tire.
    • The front right tire will become the rear right tire.
    • The rear right tire will become the front left tire.

Methods

There are a few different rotation patterns you can use, depending on the type of tires you have. The process will also vary depending on the number of jack stands available. If you only have one or two, prepare to do a little vehicular juggling.

The Easy Way

With four jack stands, you can lift the car completely so all four wheels are elevated. This is the safest way to rotate your tires without getting a firsthand look of gravity’s effect on steel and aluminum.

Lift the Car

The first thing you want is a nicely-suspended vehicle that will make it easy to access the tires.

  1. Place the car jack under a wheel and lift. You will want the tire high enough to fit a jack stand underneath.
  2. Secure the wheel with a jack stand. Place the stand underneath the wheel and adjust the height accordingly.
  3. Lower the wheel onto the jack stand slowly. The wheel’s axle should come to rest on the stand’s cradle.
  4. Lower and remove the car jack. Be careful not to hit or knock the jack standover. 
  5. Repeat these steps for each wheel.

Remove the Tires

Here is where you start the actual “rotating the tires” part of the whole process.

  1. Unscrew the lug nuts off of the wheel. You can remove them in any order.
  2. Take the wheel off. Set it down near the corner you are working on so you can keep track of the wheel’s position and where it needs to go.
  3. Repeat these steps for each wheel.

Switch Tire Positions

Ready to do some rotating? Here’s the part where you switch the tires around.

  1. Pick a tire and move it to its new position. You can go ahead and slide the wheel on, but don’t tighten it down just yet.
    Make sure the wheel is in the right direction if it doesn’t have a non-directional tire. 
  2. Repeat these steps for each wheel.

Secure the Tires

This next step is important to ensure you have a vehicle that can keep all four wheels on when barreling down the road at highway speeds.

  1. Tighten down the lug nuts on a wheel. It’s best to work diagonally in a star pattern. Start with one lug nut, tighten it down, then move to the opposite one. This will help keep the tension even across the wheel. 
  2. Repeat these steps for each wheel.

Lower the Car

It’s time to see if you’ve completed the job.

  1. Place the car jack under a wheel and lift.
  2. Remove the jack stand.
  3. Lower the wheel onto the ground slowly. Let the vehicle’s full weight come down before you try to remove the car jack. 
  4. Lower and remove the car jack.
  5. Repeat these steps for each wheel.

The Hard(er) Way

If you don’t have enough jack stands for each wheel, you can get by with as little as a single stand. The process is harder, and you will up the danger factor, but it can be done with time, patience, and the proper balance between the vehicle’s center of gravity, the ground, and some metal. 

Lift Two Tires Up

This first step will require a bit of careful planning and calculation. You will need to start with the tires you want to swap first, then move around to the other wheels while lifting and rotating different corners. 

  1. Place the car jack under a wheel and lift. You will want the tire high enough to fit a jack stand underneath.
  2. Secure the wheel with a jack stand. Place the stand underneath the wheel and adjust the height accordingly.
  3. Lower the wheel onto the jack stand slowly. The wheel’s axle should come to rest on the stand’s cradle.
  4. Lower and remove the car jack. Be careful not to hit or knock the jack standover.
  5. Repeat these steps for the next wheel. If you only have one jack stand, use the car jack for the second tire. 

Remove the Tires

Follow these instructions each time you go to remove a tire.

  1. Unscrew the lug nuts off of the wheel. You can remove them in any order.
  2. Take the wheel off.
  3. Repeat these steps for the other wheel.

Switch Tire Positions

Once you’ve removed two tires, you can swap them around.

  1. Position the tire into its new spot. You can go ahead and slide the wheel on, but don’t tighten it down just yet.
  2. Make sure the wheel is in the right direction if it doesn’t have a non-directional tire. 

(Optional) Repeat these steps for the other wheel. If you are simply swapping the wheels on the same side, go ahead and position the other tire. If not, keep the other tire nearby for the next lift.

Secure the Tire

Time to secure those lugs so the tires won’t decide to leave the wheels.

  • Tighten down the lug nuts on the wheel. It’s best to work diagonally in a star pattern. Start with one lug nut, tighten it down, then move to the opposite one. This will help keep the tension even across the wheel.
  • (Optional) Repeat these steps for the other wheel. Repeat the steps only if you are swapping the tires on the same side. Otherwise, leave the other tire alone until the next lift.

Lower the Tire

You can now lower the secured tire and move the car jack to the next wheel in the sequence.

  1. Place the car jack under the wheel and lift.
  2. Remove the jack stand.
  3. Lower the wheel onto the ground slowly. Let the vehicle’s full weight come down before you try to remove the car jack. 
  4. Lower and remove the car jack.

Repeat

You will probably have to repeat the previous steps once or twice to get around to each wheel. Work slowly and keep track of which tire you are on in the sequence.

  • If you are working with directional tires, simply lift the wheels on the other side and swap the tires as before.
  • For non-directional tires, lift only one tire at a time. Remove it, swap it for the previous tire, secure it, lower it, and repeat. You will keep the first tire (in the jack stand) suspended until you complete the sequence. 

Tips

  • You should rotate your tires every 3,000 to 5,000 miles for the best results.
  • You can time your tire rotations with your oil changes. If you change your own oil, tackle the tires too to keep the maintenance on the same schedule.
  • Keep an eye on the tread wear of each tire. If the tires are wearing evenly, rotating them is working.
  • For directional tires, you can tell which direction they should point by looking at the top. The top treads will usually point in the direction of travel. 
  • Don’t rotate the spare tire. Most modern cars have a smaller spare that’s not designed for extended travel. 

FAQ

Q: What happens if I don’t rotate my tires?

A: Tires wear at different rates if you don’t rotate them regularly. Front tires wear faster due to turning right and left. 

Q: Can I rotate my own tires by myself?

A: Technically, yes. As long as you have the right tools, you can swap the wheels if you don’t mind jumping around with the car jack for a few lifts. For safety and convenience, however, bribing a friend or family member to help out is the better way to go.

Q: How do I put different tires onto the wheel?

A: Swapping tires on rims is a different matter from tire rotation. You’ll need another set of tools to get the tires off and onto the rims. It’s better to leave this to the professionals if you want to save yourself some headache.